SARASOTANS OFTEN BOAST ABOUT OUR PERFORMING ARTS SCENE—and with good reason. Our professional theater, ballet, orchestra and opera companies frequently win raves from New York critics, while some of our many community theaters have won international recognition. We’re also home to some outstanding local dance, choral and film programs.
For professional theater, take your pick: Asolo Rep, Florida’s state theater company, is joined by downtown Sarasota’s Florida Studio Theatre and the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre. But that’s just the beginning for the area’s talented actors and actresses, who also shine in lauded community theaters from Venice to Anna Maria.
Local musicians hit all the right notes, from the professional Sarasota Orchestra and Sarasota Opera companies to symphonies, concert bands and choral groups making beautiful music wherever you listen. We’re the home of La Musica, a chamber music festival, and Sarasota Music Festival, a renowned teaching festival. And dance, too, takes the stage—all the stages, really—be it the Sarasota Ballet or the many contemporary and experimental groups forever exploring new forms of artistic movement.
And beyond, there’s Circus Sarasota, continuing the area’s century-old circus tradition; McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre, drawing laugh-out-loud stand-ups from national tours; the star-studded Sarasota Film Festival; and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, ensuring that no matter what kind of show you’re looking for, you’ll find it on a Sarasota stage.
The popular Players Theatre made its early home in a 246-seat theater built of pecky cypress in 1936. The current theater sits on that same site.
Asolo Repertory Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 351-8000. asolorep.org. For more than 50 years, the Asolo Rep has been presenting professional, Equity theater productions, with a rotating repertory cast and format that’s rare in North America. The season, usually offering eight or nine plays, gets under way in October or November and continues into May or June. The past few seasons have begun with blockbuster musical productions en route to Broadway, followed by a rotating repertory presenting a range of classical and contemporary works, employing professional actors who are based locally or split their time between Sarasota and New York.
Banyan Theater Company, (941) 358-5330. banyantheatercompany.com. Nearly a decade ago, the Banyan began to satisfy Sarasota’s insatiable appetite for theater by producing professional quality productions over the summer. Three shows are presented in the traditionally slower months of June, July and August, and they run the gamut from Eugene O’Neill to Chekhov to Neil LaBute, giving us plenty to talk about after the final curtain.
The FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 351-8000. Home to the professional Asolo Rep, the FSU/Asolo Conservatory of Professional Actor Training (which presents its own four-play season in the smaller Cook Theatre here), Sarasota Ballet of Florida and, in the summer, the Banyan Theater Company. Performances on two stages year-round.
Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-9000. floridastudiotheatre.org. FST’s diverse offerings run virtually year-round on three stages in downtown Sarasota. The mainstage season at the Keating Theatre mixes drama, musical comedies and new work; a smaller, intimate cabaret stage is perfect for musical revues as well as improv comedy performances, workshops and more. The Gompertz Theatre on First Street also presents smaller-sized shows, often of a hard-hitting nature.
Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, 25 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-5454. thegoldenapple.com. The country’s oldest continuously running professional dinner theater serves up songs and laughter in the heart of downtown Sarasota. Traditionally, the Apple has presented Broadway musical comedy standards like Evita or Cats; lately, they’ve also branched out into newer musical revues—and, yes, even drag queen bingo. The season runs virtually year-round.
Manatee Players, 102 12th St. W., Bradenton. (941) 748-0111. manateeplayers.com. This venerable community theater has been presenting a full season of plays (mostly musicals of late) for decades in its Riverfront Theatre site in downtown Bradenton. (The group is in the process of building a new facility nearby.) The quality is often well above the usual concept of community theater; strong educational programs here, too.
The Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 365-2494. theplayers.org. The Players is the great-granddaddy of the area’s community theaters, with a stage that has been graced by Montgomery Clift and Charlton Heston. Now celebrating its 82nd season, it offers Broadway musical favorites onstage September through April. But the Players also presents a lively mix of concerts and a summer play fest, as well as occasional edgier work. There are also a popular playwriting contest and a performing arts school at the Players, where students of all ages get to hone the talents that may eventually launch them onto mainstage.
Venice Theatre, 140 W. Tampa Ave. W., Venice. (941) 488-1115. venicestage.com. Community theater presenting a blend of musical favorites, the occasional drama and a comedy or two on its mainstage. Venice Theatre’s smaller, black-box Pinkerton Theater plays host to more contemporary Stage II offerings, along with cabaret shows. Again, there’s a strong educational component to the theater’s programs, with classes for both children and adults.
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota. (941) 366-1505. wbttroupe.org. This professional African-American theater company has been going strong for more than a decade now. WBTT has had numerous hits with its musicals, but they present the occasional drama, too, drawn from either African-American playwrights or relating to the African-American experience. The season, comprising four shows, is performed at the troupe’s new home from December to May.
MUSIC, DANCE & POETRY
Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota. (941) 306-1200. artistseries.net. Celebrating its 16th season, the Artist Series continues to captivate audiences with world-class classical music as well as concerts featuring pop and Broadway sounds. Most concerts take place at the Historic Asolo Theater, October through June.
Fuzión Dance Artists, (941) 345-5755. fuziondance.com. Sarasota’s first contemporary dance company, Fuzión presents a range of dance genres in seasonal performances at the Historic Asolo Theater and at stages and other venues throughout the area (and beyond). The company and its choreographers also work with students of all ages.
Gloria Musicae, (941) 387-6046. gloriamusicae.com. This longtime professional chamber chorus presents several concerts a year, including a December holiday event, a Fourth of July celebration and a large-scale piece (this year they are Haydn: Seven Last Words of Christ and Vaughan Williams: Five Mystical Songs, April 2, 2012). Venues vary; for ticket info you can call 360-7399.
The Jazz Club of Sarasota, 330 S. Pineapple Ave., Suite 111, Sarasota. (941) 366-1552. jazzclubsarasota.com. Celebrating three decades of promoting, performing and preserving jazz, the Jazz Club organizes performances year-round, including jams, members’ concerts and educational programs. Their Sarasota Jazz Festival in the spring has been a highlight for many years.
Key Chorale, (941) 921-4845. keychorale.org. This ensemble has been presenting choral music in the community for more than a quarter century, and its masterworks, performed at the Sarasota Opera House and other venues, are local favorites.
La Musica International Chamber Music Festival, (941) 366-8450. lamusicafestival.org. Another musical organization that’s entered its third decade, La Musica brings musicians from Europe and the Americas to perform all sorts of chamber works. The festival, under the artistic direction of Bruno Giuranna and Derek Han, takes place each April and offers rehearsals open to the public at New College’s Sainer Pavilion and a number of concerts at the Sarasota Opera House.
New Music New College, (941) 487-4888. newmusicnewcollege.org. This program is a proving ground for compositional and performance projects that start in the classrooms of New College’s music program. The five-concert series features both student musicians and professionals, local and national, in venues around the campus.
Perlman Music Program Suncoast, (941) 955-4942. perlmanmusicprogramsuncoast.org. A professional development program for gifted young musicians founded by the famed Itzhak and Toby Perlman, offering audiences the chance to see rehearsals and recitals during the two-week winter program here. The residency culminates with a Celebration Concert at the Sarasota Opera House led by Itzhak Perlman himself.
Sarasota Ballet, (941) 359-0099. sarasotaballet.org. With its fifth season under the artistic direction of Iain Webb, this international professional company has garnered acclaim for staging new or rarely seen dance pieces, with works by choreographers ranging from legends like Sir Frederick Ashton to more contemporary masters such as Matthew Bourne and Dominic Walsh. The ballet season typically runs from October or November through April, with performances scheduled at the Sarasota Opera House and the FSU Center.
Sarasota Choral Society, (941) 343-9894. sarasotachoralsociety.org. This community chorus numbering up to 300 strong has performed the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah (accompanied by a full orchestra, organist and soloists) every winter for 68 years.
Sarasota Concert Association, (941) 955-0040. sarasotaconcertassociation.org. Presents a hugely popular five-concert series at the Van Wezel featuring internationally renowned symphony and chamber orchestras, ensembles and soloists. Association members gobble up the series subscriptions, but returned tickets can be found by calling ahead or showing up to the box office an hour before a performance—just expect some competition.
Sarasota Concert Band, (941) 364-2263. sarasotaconcertband.org. The concert band performs regular concerts at various area venues, focusing on concert band music, often with a patriotic theme.
Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-8450. sarasotaopera.org. This internationally acclaimed professional company, led by Maestro Victor DeRenzi, performs a range of operas in downtown Sarasota’s stunningly restored Sarasota Opera House. Fall and winter seasons generally present four operas from Mozart to Puccini to the Sarasota Opera’s widely praised Verdi cycle, plus concerts, special events, and the new American Classics program featuring 20th-century masterpieces by American composers. The company also maintains a unique Sarasota Youth Opera program.
Sarasota Orchestra, 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 953-4252. At more than 60 years of age, this 80-member professional orchestra (formerly the Florida West Coast Symphony) is the oldest continuing orchestra in the state. In addition to its traditional Masterworks series and chamber music, offerings include multimedia “Journeys to Genius” experiences. The orchestra is also justly proud of its educational outreach; the Youth Orchestra programs, more than 50 years old, include more than 200 young musicians, in addition to students at summer music camps and lessons.
Sarasota Pops, (941) 926-POPS. sarasotapops.org. The home-grown orchestra, which also welcomes occasional guest artists, performs a series of five concerts throughout the November to April season, with material varying from Bach to Christmas tunes to jazz. Most performances take place at Sarasota’s Church of the Palms.
SOULSPEAK/SOULMOVES, (941) 366-6468. soulspeak.org. This long-running collective of artists presents live poetry performances, as well as dance, music and art, centered on spontaneous communal speaking. It also produces videos, CDs and documentaries.
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 953-3368. vanwezel.org. This distinctive purple seashell-shaped hall along Sarasota’s bayfront boasts a wide-ranging season of Broadway touring theater, international dance companies both classical and modern, acclaimed world orchestras, comedians, pop music stars, children’s programs and more, mostly October through May.
Venice Symphony, (941) 488-1010. thevenicesymphony.org. Presenting six sets of concerts a year, December through April, from classical to pops, as well as a summer music camp. Performances are held at Venice’s Church of the Nazarene.
Circus Sarasota, (941) 355-9335. circussarasota.org. Not many towns can boast their own one-ring circus, but this is Sarasota, which has been synonymous with the circus arts for more than 80 years. Co-founders Pedro Reis and Dolly Jacobs (daughter of legendary clown Lou Jacobs) oversee winter performances (in February) under the Big Top that feature top stars from around the world in the fields of high-wire, aerial, juggling, equestrian acts and more. Recently partnered with the Sailor Circus program for students, Circus Sarasota also offers numerous educational and outreach programs.
McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre, 3333 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 925-FUNY. mccurdyscomedy.com. Nationally known stand-up comics make regular stops at McCurdy’s popular club in north Sarasota (think Chris Rock, Jeff Dunham and Last Comic Standing alums). Full bar and snacks are available during performances. Check McCurdy’s novel rating system to gauge the level of “adult humor” for each performer—there are even family comedy shows. Open-mic nights and training and special programs through the Humor Institute.
Sarasota Film Festival, (941) 364-9514. sarasotafilmfestival.com. Each spring, Sarasota welcomes actors, filmmakers and film lovers to a 10-day celebration of the art of film, with screenings of brand-new movies at downtown’s Hollywood 20, plus parties, talks with the artists and more. This year’s fest is set for April 13-22; there are usually at least a dozen or so well-known celebs in attendance (Charlize Theron, Kevin Kline and Werner Herzog have all been past attendees). The organization also sponsors year-round screenings of classic movies and reaches out into the schools with its educational programs.
Sarasota Film Society/Burns Court Cinema, (941) 955-FILM or (941) 364-8662. SFS. filmsociety.org. Presents independent and international films at its intimate Burns Court location in downtown Sarasota—a popular spot among locals. SFS also hosts the weeklong Cine-World Festival each November and operates movie theaters in Lakewood Ranch.
New College of Florida, 5800 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. (941) 487-5000. ncf.edu. New College continues to win raves as an innovative, affordable four-year liberal arts school. Academic tracks include art, art history and music—and many more.
Ringling College of Art and Design, 2700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 351-5100. ringling.edu. This internationally recognized four-year professional art and design school earns national attention—graduates are recruited by the likes of Pixar, Abercrombie & Fitch and Hallmark. And its ever-expanding campus, which includes several recently completed buildings, has become a landmark on North Tamiami Trail. Among the school’s specialties: graphic and interior design, computer animation, fine arts, illustration, photography and digital film making.
State College of Florida, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton. (941) 752-5000. scf.edu. Formerly known as Manatee Community College, this institute of higher education is home to a fine and performing arts department that includes instruction in art, photography, film, music and theater. Both a gallery and a theater space are active on the Bradenton campus; there are also classes in Venice and Lakewood Ranch locations.